As I begin planting new gardens in Greenfield, I have been reminiscing about the adventures we’ve had with gardens at the End of the Road. When we moved here in November of 1979 I must confess to having very little garden experience. In 1972-3 I had a very tiny vegetable garden at my Grinnell Street House. Then we moved to North Berwick, Maine and in the spring of 1975 I planted a large vegetable garden there.
I was in a manic mood in 1975. I was unhappily teaching 6th grade and found great pleasure in the garden, the chicks we bought and the two piglets named Supper and Dinner. The garden was too big and my skills were minimal. Our old neighbor, Mr. Leslie, once chatted with my husband while I planted carrots. “I never saw anyone broadcast carrot seed,” he said with amazement. Henry just shook his head.
A change in plans put an end to that garden before the harvest and we moved to New York City, where Henry’s ancestral apartment did have a shady backyard garden. No vegetables, and I paid very little attention to it
The move to Heath filled me with big plans and dreams for a vegetable garden, a root cellar, and canning marathons. In the spring of 1980 we hired Louis Pazmino to come over with his tractor to come and plow up a very big vegetable garden. It only took that one year of picking potato bugs and watching half the garden become enveloped in weeds for me to be ready to rethink the plan. Henry shook his head, and I agreed a smaller garden would be wise.
I also began working at GreenfieldCommunity College where I met our famous neighbor Elsa Bakalar, perennial gardener extraordinaire. I, who had never thought about flowers beyond marigolds, zinnias, and The Passionate Nymph’s Thigh rose, suddenly started planning and planting a perennial border at the edge of the big front lawn. I filled it with strong growers like plume poppy and feverfew from Elsa’s garden and local plant swaps. Henry shook his head while he watched me try to keep up with weeding the perennial border, the vegetable garden and the beginnings of the Rose Walk.
By the time we left for our year in Beijing in 1989 the border had grown to 90 x 8 feet. When we returned to Heath the spring of 1990 the perennial border was officially lost. As gardeners we learn that a garden is a delicate ephemeral thing. It is always changing, and cannot survive a year of neglect. We worked to revive the vegetable garden, and plant more rose bushes and then took a break to celebrate the Fourth of July with friends and barbecue. The day was enervating, very hot, still and humid. We were happy to fall into our bed that night.
At 2 in the morning a violent thunderstorm woke us and the smell of smoke moved us into action. Lightning had struck the big old barn across from the house and was burning. Lightning had also struck the telephone pole and knocked out the phone. Henry drove down to our neighbor, leaning on the horn all the way, to call the fire department.
The volunteer firemen immediately sprayed the house which was already beginning to smoke. It took the rest of the night to put the fire out, but the house was saved. Nearby trees, and roses were singed but they survived. We were left with three stone barn foundation walls.
The perennial border was gone, but now we had the beginnings of a SunkenGarden which was never a part of any plan. With the help of tons of autumn leaves we turned that space into a vegetable garden filled with cold compost leaf beds according to the Larry Leitner method. In 1994 our daughter was married in front of the by-then more familiar raised beds for vegetables.
I planted David Austin Roses along the north wall of the Sunken Garden, forgetting that the plow dumped a lot of snow over the edge of the Garden. The roses were too tender and did not survive two Heath winters, or the plowed snow. The rest of the garden, even with raised beds proved to be too wet for vegetables. Only the Sargent crab, planted in the middle of the space survives.
In 1991, while the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings provided conversation over the hammers and beams, our family gathering spent the Columbus Day weekend working on a new shed. That shed provided space for a rose filled Shed Bed.